|Name: Meher Baba|
|Birth: February 25, 1894 (Pune, India)|
|Death: January 31 1969 (aged 74) (Meherazad, India)|
|School/tradition: Sufism, Vedanta, Mysticism|
Meher Baba (Devanagari: मेहेर बाबा ), (February 25, 1894– January 31, 1969), was an Irani (Indian of Persian descent) born in Poona (now Pune), India, who became a spiritual master, and late in his life (1954 at age 60) publicly declared that he was the Avatar of this Age.
As a child, he showed no particular inclination toward spiritual matters. However, at the age of 19, contact with an old Muslim holy woman marked the beginning of his spiritual awakening. With a single kiss on Merwan's forehead, he was said to have suddenly triggered a seven-year process of transformation in the young man. For much of that time, he appeared mad. In 1915, at the age of 22, he was hailed as "Parvardigar" (Sufi for 'God as the Almighty Sustainer') by the Indian fakir Sai Baba of Shirdi. He received help from three more spiritual masters, including Narayan Maharaj, Tajuddin Baba, and Upasni Maharaj. It was Upasni Maharaj who he said "brought him down" to normal consciousness and revealed to him in 1921 his spiritual identity as "The Ancient One." It was after an extensive period with Maharaj that Merwan began his public work.
The name Meher Baba, meaning "Compassionate Father," was given to Merwan by his first followers in 1921.
Meher Baba lived and traveled in company with a circle of close disciples whom he termed his "mandali" (Sanskrit for 'circle'), both men and women from whom he demanded absolute obedience. From 1925 to the end of his life, Meher Baba remained silent, communicating by means of an alphabet board or by gesture. Meher Baba spent long periods in seclusion, often fasting, but he would intersperse these periods with wide-ranging travels, public gatherings, and works of charity, including working with lepers, the poor, and the mad. He gave many discourses, which have been collected by his followers.
In 1931, he made the first of many visits to the West. During these travels, a number of western mandali joined him. He died on January 31, 1969. His samadhi (tomb-shrine) in Meherabad, India has since become a place of international pilgrimage.
Meher Baba was born in Pune, India at the Sassoon Hospital on 25th of February, 1894 at 5:00 in the morning. His given birth name was Merwan Sheriar Irani. He was the second son of his father Sheriar Mundegar Irani, a Persian Zoroastrian who had been a wandering Sufi dervish before settling in Pune, and Sheriar's young wife, Shireen, who called him her "most beautiful child." His schoolmates nicknamed the charismatic and sometimes mischievous youngster "Electricity." As a boy he formed The Cosmopolitan Club amongst his best friends, a club dedicated to remaining informed in world affairs and giving money to charity—money often raised by the boys betting at the horse races. Merwan had a sonorous singing voice and was an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and poet. Fluent in half a dozen languages, he was especially fond of Hafez's Persian poetry, but also of Shakespeare and Shelley. He was known for his lightning wit and universal knowledge, embracing both commerce and the arts. He claimed that all major established religions are essentially different beads on the same string, quoting freely from those traditions.
In his youth, Merwan had no mystical inclinations or experiences, but was more interested in sports, especially cricket. At the age of 19, however, while bicycling home from Deccan College in Pune, he met a very old Muslim woman, a spiritual master named Hazrat Babajan, who kissed him on the forehead. Shortly after this, he also had direct contact with four other spiritual figures in India, who he later said were among the five "perfect masters" of the age, Hazrat Tajuddin Baba of Nagpur, Narayan Maharaj of Kedgaon, Sai Baba of Shirdi, and Upasni Maharaj of Sakori.
Meher Baba explained that Hazrat Babajan was a perfect master, whose kiss unveiled him spiritually to his state of God-consciousness or God-realization. Subsequently, he reportedly went without food or drink for nine months, frequently beating his head against a stone to maintain contact with the physical world. Later he contacted the sadgurus Sai Baba of Shirdi and Upasni Maharaj of Sakori, who he said helped him to integrate this experience with normal consciousness, thus enabling him to function in the world without diminishing his experience of God-realization.
In 1921, at the age of 27, after living for seven years in Sakori with Upasni Maharaj, Merwan started to attract a following of his own. His early followers gave him the name "Meher Baba," meaning Compassionate Father.
In 1922, Meher Baba and his followers established "Manzil-e-Meem" (House of the Master) in Bombay. Baba demanded strict discipline and obedience from his disciples and spent this period in meditation and fasting. After a year, Baba and his disciples moved to an area a few miles outside Ahmednagar, which he called "Meherabad" (Meher flourishing). This ashram would become the center for his work. In 1924, Meher Baba created a resident school called the "Prem Ashram" ("prem" means "love"). The school was free and open to all castes. The school drew multi-denominational students from around India and Iran.
From July 10, 1925 until his death in 1969, Meher Baba was silent. He communicated first by using an alphabet board, and later by hand gestures which were interpreted and spoken out by one of his mandali (devoted disciples), usually by his disciple Eruch Jessawala.
Meher Baba said that his silence was not undertaken as a spiritual exercise, nor as a vow of silence, but undertaken and maintained solely in connection with his universal work.
Man’s inability to live God’s words makes the Avatar’s teaching a mockery. Instead of practicing the compassion he taught, man has waged wars in his name. Instead of living the humility, purity, and truth of his words, man has given way to hatred, greed, and violence. Because man has been deaf to the principles and precepts laid down by God in the past, in this present Avataric form, I observe silence.
In the 1930s, Meher Baba began a period of extensive world travel, circling the globe many times. He made frequent trips to Europe and America. It was during this period that he established contact with his first close group of Western disciples.
On his first trip to England in 1931 he traveled on the SS Rajputana, the same ship that carried Mahatma Gandhi. Meher Baba and Gandhi had three meetings onboard including one that lasted for three hours. In the West, Meher Baba met with interested individuals who had heard of his spiritual status and his work in India. Many of these were celebrities and artists, such as Hollywood stars Gary Cooper, Charles Laughton, Tallulah Bankhead, Boris Karloff and others. On June 1, 1932 Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. held a reception for Baba at Pickfair where he delivered a message to Hollywood. In 1934, after announcing that he would break his self-imposed silence in the Hollywood Bowl, Baba suddenly changed his plans and boarded the Empress of Canada and sailed to Hong Kong, without explanation, leaving many upset celebrities. He did not return to the United States again until the early 1950s. He did, however, return to England in 1936 during one of his last world tours.
In the late 1930s, Meher Baba invited a group of western women to join him in India, where he arranged a series of trips throughout India that became known as the Blue Bus Tours. When they returned home, many newspapers treated their journey as an occasion for scandal.
During the course of early gatherings of his close circle and followers, Meher Baba gave discourses on various spiritual subjects. Between 1938 and 1943, at the request of Princess Norina Matchabelli (co-founder of Prince Matchabelli Perfume and a close follower of Meher Baba), Meher Baba dictated a series of discourses on his alphabet board for her New York publication Meher Baba Journal.
These discourses, transcribed or worked up from points given by Baba by close disciples, address many aspects of the spiritual life, and provide practical and simple direction for the aspirant. During those years, at least one of these discourses appeared in each issue of the monthly Meher Baba Journal. C.D. Deshmukh, a close disciple of Meher Baba, compiled and edited the discourses, and Baba personally approved each discourse by signing the table of contents for that issue of the journal.
Between 1939 and 1954 in India, a five-volume compilation titled Discourses of Meher Baba received several printings. In 1967, two years before passing away, Meher Baba personally supervised the editing and publication of a new three-volume version of the Discourses, known as the sixth edition, which is available online.
The widely available seventh edition of the Discourses first published by Sheriar Press in 1987 (after Baba's death), contains numerous editorial changes not specifically authorized by Meher Baba, although the meaning of the discourses is little changed.
In the 1940s, Meher Baba did extensive work with a category of people he termed masts (short for the Sufi term "Mast-Allah" meaning "intoxicated with God," and pronounced "mŭst"). According to Meher Baba these individuals are essentially disabled by their enchanting experience of the higher spiritual planes. Although outwardly masts may appear irrational or even insane, Meher Baba said that their spiritual status was actually quite elevated, and that by meeting with them, he helped them to move forward spiritually while enlisting their aid in his spiritual work.
Meher Baba visited literally thousands of masts throughout the subcontinent, and occasionally set up ashrams where they were cared for. One of the best known of these masts, known as Mohammed Mast, lived at Meher Baba's encampment at Meherabad until his death in 2003. Meher Baba's work with the masts is extensively documented in the book The Wayfarers: Meher Baba with the God-Intoxicated.
In 1949 Meher Baba began an enigmatic period which he called "The New Life." Following a series of questions on their readiness to obey even the most difficult of his requests, Meher Baba selected 20 companions to join him in a life of complete hopelessness, helplessness and aimlessness. During this time, Meher Baba acted not as the Master, but as a companion.
He made provisions for those dependent on him, then he and his companions otherwise gave up all property and financial responsibilities. They then traveled about India incognito, without money, begging for their food, carrying out Baba's instructions and living in strict accordance with a set of "conditions of the New Life." These included absolute acceptance of the circumstances of their lives, and consistent good cheer in the face of any difficulty. Those companions who failed to comply were sent away.
About the New Life Meher Baba wrote:
This New Life is endless, and even after my physical death it will be kept alive by those who live the life of complete renunciation of falsehood, lies, hatred, anger, greed and lust; and who, to accomplish all this, do no lustful actions, do no harm to anyone, do no backbiting, do not seek material possessions or power, who accept no homage, neither covet honor nor shun disgrace, and fear no one and nothing; by those who rely wholly and solely on God, and who love God purely for the sake of loving; who believe in the lovers of God and in the reality of Manifestation, and yet do not expect any spiritual or material reward; who do not let go the hand of Truth, and who, without being upset by calamities, bravely and wholeheartedly face all hardships with one hundred percent cheerfulness, and give no importance to caste, creed and religious ceremonies. This New Life will live by itself eternally, even if there is no one to live it.
Meher Baba ended the New Life after a period of intense seclusion, and once again began a round of public appearances and extensive travel throughout India and the West.
In the 1950s Meher Baba established two centers outside of India: Meher Spiritual Center, in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Avatar's Abode, near Brisbane, Australia. He inaugurated the Meher Spiritual Center in the United States in April, 1952. On May 24, 1952, en route from the Meher Spiritual Center to Meher Mount in Ojai, California, the car in which Meher Baba was a passenger was struck head-on near Prague, Oklahoma. He and his companions were thrown from the vehicle and suffered many injuries. Meher Baba's leg was severely broken and he had facial injuries. The injured were treated and returned to Myrtle Beach to recuperate, including work done at Duke Hospital in Durham, North Carolina.
In September, 1953 Meher Baba gave his "Highest of the High" declaration at Dehradun, India. On February 10, 1954 in Meherastana U.P., India, Meher Baba publicly declared his Avatarhood for the first time by spelling out on his alphabet board during a gathering, "Avatar Meher Baba Ki Jai."
In September of that year, Meher Baba gave a "men-only" sahavas at Meherabad which later became known as the "Three Incredible Weeks." During this time Baba issued a number of messages and discourses, the most significant being "Meher Baba's Call," wherein Baba proclaims his Avatarhood irrespective of the "doubts and convictions" of others.
In October of 1954, Meher Baba discarded his alphabet board and began using a unique set of hand gestures to communicate.
On December 2, 1956, outside Satara, India, the car in which Meher Baba was being driven went out of control and a second serious automobile collision occurred. Meher Baba suffered a fractured pelvis and other severe injuries. Dr. Nilu, a close mandali, was killed.
This collision seriously incapacitated Meher Baba. Despite his physician's predictions to the contrary, after great effort Baba managed to walk again, but from that point was in constant pain and was severely limited in his ability to move. In fact, during his trip to the West in 1958 he often needed to be carried from venue to venue. Like his silence, Baba indicated that his automobile accidents and the suffering that attended them were purposeful and brought about by his will.
Meher Baba returned to India and began more periods of fasting, meditation, and seclusion. This seclusion work was draining and exhausting. Meher Baba said he was doing work on behalf of the spiritual welfare of all humanity.
In 1962, Meher Baba gave one of his last public functions, a series of meetings he called The East-West Gathering. At these meetings, in which his Western followers were invited to meet his Indian disciples, Baba gave darshan to many thousands of people, despite the physical strain this caused on his broken body.
In the mid-1960s, Meher Baba became concerned with the increasing drug culture in the West and began a correspondence with several Western academics including Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert in which he strongly discouraged the use of all hallucinogenic drugs for spiritual purposes. In 1966 Meher Baba's responses to questions on drugs were published in a pamphlet titled God in a Pill? Meher Baba stated that drug use was spiritually damaging and that if enlightenment were possible through drugs then "God is not worthy of being God." Meher Baba instructed certain of his young Western disciples to spread this message, which increased Meher Baba's notoriety among the young during this period.
From the East-West Gathering onward, Meher Baba's health steadily deteriorated. Despite the physical toll it took on his body, Meher Baba continued to undertake long periods in seclusion, In late July 1968, Meher Baba completed a particularly taxing period of seclusion and emerged saying that his work was "completed 100 percent to my satisfaction". By this point he was confined to a wheelchair. Within a few months his condition worsened and he was bed-ridden. His body was wracked by intense muscular spasms that had no clear origin. Despite the care of several doctors, the spasms grew progressively worse. During these last days, Baba emphatically told his close disciple and night-watchman, Bhau Kalchuri "Remember this! I am not this body!"
On January 31, 1969, Meher Baba took his final breaths, conveying by his final gesture, "Do not forget that I am God." This day became known as Amartithi ("deathless day"). Meher Baba's body was laid in his samadhi at Meherabad, amongst ice and sawdust, and covered with roses. His body was kept available to the public for one week before its final burial.
Before his passing, Meher Baba had made extensive preparations for a public darshan program to be held in Pune, India. His mandali decided to proceed with the arrangements despite the physical absence of the host, saying that "God had invited them, and they were free to keep their appointment." Several thousand attended this "Last Darshan," including many hundred people from the U.S.A., Europe, and Australia.
Meher Baba's metaphysical views are most notably described in two books by him, Discourses and God Speaks. Meher Baba upheld the concept of nonduality, the view that diverse creation, or duality, is an illusion and that the goal of life is conscious realization of the absolute Oneness of God inherent in all animate and inanimate beings and things.
God's original state is compared to an infinite, shoreless ocean which has only unconscious divinity—unaware of itself even though there is nothing but itself. From this state, God had the "whim" to know Himself and asked "Who am I?" In response to this question, creation came into existence. In this analogy, what was previously a still, shoreless Ocean now stirred, forming innumerable "drops" of itself or souls.
Each soul, being formed by God's whim to know Himself, contains within itself the same desire for self-knowledge. In pursuit of the answer to that question (to gain conscious divinity) each soul evolves consciousness through experience of each form in seven kingdoms of evolution, i.e., stone, vegetable, worm, fish, bird, animal, and human. The impressions gathered through experience of these forms in turn seek expression. This need for expression of accumulated impressions gained through the medium of a particular form eventually cannot be accommodated by the form the soul identifies with, necessitating that the soul abandon that form and associate with the next most complex form through which the impressions can be expressed. By this process increasing consciousness is gained.
In this way, the soul experiences (by associating with) and discards (by dissociating from) forms in all the evolutionary kingdoms. According to Meher Baba the final form of the soul's evolution of consciousness is the human form, through which full consciousness is attained. Only human consciousness, which is full consciousness, is capable of achieving awareness of its own divinity.
However, although consciousness is full upon the attainment of the first human form, the soul's ages-long accumulation of impressions gathered through evolution prevent it from identifying itself as God, its true being. Instead, human consciousness is preoccupied with expressing its impressions by seeking sensual experiences. Ultimately, however, through the soul's travail through numerous human incarnations encompassing the whole range of opposite human experience (e.g., man/woman, rich/poor, powerful/weak, etc.), the impressions accumulated through its evolution, as well as those gathered in its human lives, begin to thin and the soul's awareness of a reality beyond its own immediate desires is stirred. This is the beginning of the end of the soul's separate existence. The soul then begins to traverse an inner spiritual path, or involution, through which it gradually eliminates all impressions which cause the appearance of separateness from God.
Once all impressions are gone, the goal of knowing itself as conscious divinity is attained. The drop (soul) once again becomes merged in the Ocean (Over-soul). That is, it realizes its true divine indivisible and eternal nature. It has now answered the question of “Who am I?” with “I am God.”
Meher Baba said he was the Avatar, a Sanskrit word meaning "descent of God." The Avatar, according to Meher Baba, is a special Perfect Master who was the original Perfect Master, or the "Ancient One," who never ceases to incarnate in spite of his original attainment of God-realization. Baba says that this particular soul personifies the state of God which in Hinduism is named Vishnu and in Sufism is named Parvardigar, i.e., the sustainer or preserver state of God. Baba equates the concept of Avatar with terms from numerous diverse traditions, including Rasool, Messiah, Christ, Maitreya, Savior, Redeemer, etc. According to Meher Baba the Avatar appears on Earth every 700-1400 years, and is 'brought down' into human form by the five perfect masters of the time to aid in the process of moving creation in its never ending journey toward Godhood. Baba said that in other ages this role was fulfilled by Zoroaster, Rama, Krishna, Gautama Buddha, Jesus, and lastly by Muhammad. Meher Baba describes the Avatar as "a gauge against which man can measure what he is and what he may become. He trues the standard of human values by interpreting them in terms of divinely human life."
Meher Baba's travels and teachings left a legacy of followers and devotees worldwide. Although he sometimes participated in large public gatherings, he discouraged his followers from proselytizing or evangelizing on his behalf. Rather he stated, "Let your life itself be my message of love and truth to others."
There is no central organization surrounding Meher Baba and no coordinated interaction between groups or even any requirement to be part of groups. There is rarely any kind of actual membership in anything, no requirement to meet, no creed, and no central authority to require any of these. In addition there are no rigid rites or rituals associated with following Meher Baba; nor are there any specific duties, rites or rituals required of his followers (who commonly call themselves "Baba lovers"). However, many who consider themselves his followers observe a few common practices on an informal basis. These include keeping pictures of him, remembering him, and refraining from psychedelic drugs (including marijuana). Baba lovers sometimes differentiate between those who accept Baba's claim to Avatarhood, called Baba lovers, and Baba likers, those who are attracted to Baba in some way, but do not have any faith in his claims of divine status.
Gatherings of Baba followers, when they occur, are typically informal and social in nature. Special effort will be made to gather together on Amartithi, the anniversary of Meher Baba's death, and on his birthday. Small gatherings often read and discuss Meher Baba's written works or view films of Baba or videos of his mandali. Activities at larger gatherings often include a talk by an invited speaker or plays concerning aspects of Baba's life. Devotional music also frequently plays a substantial role in gatherings of Baba lovers.
Many of Meher Baba's followers observe Silence Day on July 10 of each year by keeping verbal silence for 24 hours in accordance with the requests Baba often made during his life that his followers keep silence or fast on this day.
Three prayers written by Meher Baba, "O Parvardigar," the "Prayer of Repentance" and the "Beloved God Prayer," are recited morning and evening at his samadhi in India, and are often recited at gatherings of his followers. At Meherabad, his followers maintain Meher Baba's practice of lighting a dhuni fire in a fire-ring on the 12th of each month. After dhuni prayers, participants throw sandalwood twigs dipped in ghee into the flame as physical representations of fears and desires they wish to relinquish.
How many Baba lovers there are is difficult to gauge since there is no central authority and no membership rolls. One's relationship with Baba is considered a person's private affair.
Although Meher Baba had initially begun gaining popular notoriety in the West as early as 1932 as the result of attention received from some celebrities of the time (such as Charles Laughton, Tallulah Bankhead, Boris Karloff and others), and the rather disillusioned account of Paul Brunton (A Search in Secret India, 1934), he achieved additional attention in the West over three decades later, through the work of Pete Townshend of The Who. Parts of the rock-opera Tommy (May, 1969) were inspired by Townshend's study of Meher Baba, to whom the album was dedicated. The Who's 1971 song Baba O'Riley was named in part after Meher Baba and on his first solo album, Who Came First, Townshend recorded the Jim Reeves song, "There's A Heartache Following Me," saying that it was Meher Baba's favorite song. In addition, Bobby McFerrin's 1988 Grammy Award winning song "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was inspired by a popular quote of Baba's seen in numerous Baba posters and inspiration cards.
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